A fearless faith in fiction — Employing, since 2008, a Kantian or Jungian sensibility and an ‘intentional fallacy’ consciousness — Various passions of the reading moment — Walter de la Mare, ELizabeth BOWen, ROBERT aiCKMAN and many others old and new — Please click my name below for this site’s navigation and my backstory as intermittent photographer, writer, editor, publisher & reviewer.
The first story I read and reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/10/04/the-pale-illuminations/#comment-17186 as follows…
THE OLD MAN OF THE WOODS
“: to me it was a delight to the eye, so gloriously distant from Grey Britain.”
It is always good to encounter a Reggie Oliver classic; not all Reggie Oliver stories are Reggie Oliver classics. Far from it. But this one is. An Englishman, determined to finish reading Proust for the first time (although that was not intrinsic to his raison d’être or purpose), retires to France, after a civil service career and a difficult marriage (details of which marriage we learn more about, but again not something intrinsic to this story, just as not intrinsic is the bum-fluff man-boy who is ‘partner’ of a neighbouring chic woman near the Englishman’s house that he’s bought on the borders of where Vichy France once met Nazidom in the war and also edging upon the Englishman’s unexpectedly owned wood wherein a legend had it that a man once cut off his shadow and thus cut off his mis-collaborating conscience) and there was some vista, too, of a chateau where Montaigne, of the essays that I once read, lived — in fact none of all this is intrinsic to the story, but a transcendentantalising vision of the Englishman’s encounter with a intensely sad ghost (“A tunnel into the void had been drilled through his body”) you will never forget. The story has its own raison d’être and this is it, whether the author allowed his story to have it or not.
“But all history is legend, and all legend history… […] You can be frightened into evil but not into goodness…”
The next story was reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2018/09/14/the-silent-garden-a-journal-of-esoteric-fabulism/#comment-13777 as follows…
(Different artwork to redeem it now!)
For me, a slight story by this story magus. I sensed a tongue in its cheek about misogyny and human rights. As a QC, a man dreams he is a God and meets his female QC rival in real life who in the dream has become Thora, Goddess of Wind. Not much to redeem it other than the painting by Nicholas Roerich that illustrates it.
THE WET WOMAN
“I was conscious of a certain theatricality about his actions which I resented. Professional actors prefer such devices to be confined to their proper domain: the stage.”
And great ghost story writers and great strange story writers, and great horror writers such as Reggie should also keep to their strengths, while this farcical staged satire about an actor who had been through the mill personally visiting a posh detox clinic with rooms named after famous mystics in a place worthy of the sort of country house that populates many Reggie stories, with machinations of retribution and mock joke Halloween hauntings becoming lethal or at least Rabelaisian, isn’t there a W.W. Jacobs story on that theme? Well, the standard of the satire is typified by calling a music group ‘Rectal Thermometer’! Well-written, otherwise, but that is superfluous praise for a Reggie story. (I might have missed something, as I found myself leapfrogging across paragraphs in case I got sucked away by the wet woman. Sorry.)
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A MAZE FOR THE MINOTAUR
“Like many Old Etonians he gave the impression of having received an education more extensive than his capacity to do anything useful with it. Politics he had considered, but then, perhaps sensibly, had given up in favour of complete idleness.”
This is the Reggie at its best. Unclassifiable. Absurd or niftily dark, it somehow reflects social history. A wild but elegantly couched cavorting with events in 1897 around St John’s Wood. Nothing I say will do justice to this work and anything I say about its plot may deter some of you reading it at all for fear of harming your cherished sensibilities. I, for one, feel myself boked and divilled to my bottom boner.
But is it a mask for something even worse? Or better! A possessed crystallisation of some hidden truth, by-passing the author’s intentions? Whatever the case, do be assured there are here just desserts in this work, desserts not wrought upon but by the ‘distaff’ over the eventually flaccid ‘spear’. Jam tarts et al.
And there are the welcome nostalgic sounds of an ancient rag and bone man.
Just one disarming hint by means of a quote from this amazing work:
“Mabel knew she was giving a performance but like a good actress she also to some extent felt what she was acting. It was a paradox which she had encountered before but not in such an extreme form. This time she gave herself wholeheartedly to the expression of a pretended passion, though she always kept in sight its purpose.”
NB: A tiny Martlesham link with another Reggie classic (Lady With A Rose): https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/01/05/the-ballet-of-dr-caligari-and-madder-mysteries-reggie-oliver/#comment-14650
A maze, not a mask?
This story takes on a new hidden truth today!
(Above image is the logo by #GarryNurrish in 2003 for #Weirdmonger.)
Jam tarts = dessert
for those who have queried my spelling above!
The next story I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2019/12/20/the-far-tower-stories-for-w-b-yeats/, as follows…
“The chapel was, as I had expected, an aesthetically null brick box, as dismal inside as it was without.”
Not Null Immortalis so much as a blend of Gull Immortalis and Nell Immortalis, and when you read this Reggie Oliver classic you will know what I mean!
Yes, an engaging, eloquent and puckish classic, yet perhaps a little TOO puckish, satirical and undark for my taste, with its donkey sanctuary/crematorium and skits on the spiritualist or occult crowd. The Unitarian Church skit, though, seemed fair game.
A retired man, once actor then teacher, and after his wife dies, he goes to the funeral of an old flame called Nell in a seaside resort where he once consummated a relationship with her on the beach when much younger. Now caught up in conspiracies and eccentricities concerning her will. With sly references to Yeats titles, such as second coming and shadowy waters. But I, too, like Nell, often get confused about Jung and Yeats.
A fine meditation on the nature of nostalgia, too. A marquetry box to contrast with the brick one. And many other memorable moments, but I could have done without the melodramatic pre-finale denouement.
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A FRAGMENT OF THUCYDIDES
“It is only late in life that you learn the law of unintended consequences and that very few good deeds go unpunished.”
A delightful academic staging of an in-camera whodunnit murder, more Father Brown than Sherlock Holmes I would opine, to the death! The academic arguments are often the most brutal — literary ones, too — and I intend, one day, to revisit the Wet Woman which in hindsight now seems to be a worthier staging-of-events story than I first thought.
Here, the detective effectively is a dozing-off 100 year old academic remembering it for another academic with strong views, memories of a real police detective who was of lower grade of deductive powers than himself. I loved also the academic arguments involving the eponymous fragment itself, and the elegant extras lent to it, I deduce, by the Reggie to the eventual whole. By the way, when I was much younger I studied, as a ‘distant minor’ subject, The Peloponnesian Wars of Thucydides (in an English translation) under a lecturer who regularly intoned the author’s name lugubriously and with a slow motion articulation worthy of Zeno’s Paradox.
And this work also seems to cover my method of reviewing books…
“By that I mean what Keats called ‘negative capability’, the capacity to take in impressions without immediately analysing them and then letting your feelings direct you to the solution.”
Cross-referenced the above with Out of the Water, Out of the Earth here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/06/30/the-night-comes-steve-duffy/#comment-22366
The next story I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/crooked-houses/#comment-19573 in that context, as follows…
THE CRUMBLIES by Reggie Oliver
“It was a coincidence, of course, pure coincidence.”
I keep my powder dry, but this engaging story, as a needful relief from the previous intense Duffy, is potentially a new Reggie Oliver classic, with sufficient characteristic Oliver puckishness to make a dry biscuit more appetising, more moreish, as it were. It is a typical setting for his work, with an extensive architecturally ‘ghost story’-prone house, including a locked attic, and large grounds, with a locked walled garden. A married couple, Alan and Stephanie, purchase it from the septuagenarian sisters who named the house after their famous children stories about the Crumblies, a half-baked version of the Borrowers? Alan is satirically a bit of a chauvinist, as is their son Sebastian who thinks his sister Emma is a tad over-imaginative when she imagines someone trying to push her down the stairs. These characters are built up gradually, including Stephanie’s visiting half-brother Eric, “the poofy vicar”, Alan suggests. One of the elderly sisters still lives nearby in a madhouse, oops, sorry, in an expensive care home. The culmination of all these plot ingredients serves to come together into a genuinely disturbing find in the attic as to what mutations of the Crumblies lurked in at least one of the elderly sisters’ minds. But there is far more to this story than I have let on. For example, why does there seem to be two versions of Stephanie about a third of the way down page 116? To become even more moreish?
Cf the jam tarts?
“‘What you want is a small, well-educated, and of course benevolent, elite to run your country.’
Cavendish winked at me and said: ‘You mean a Conservative government ruled by a cabinet of Old Etonians?’”
… arguably being this fable’s moral-in-advance.
“Burn it is my advice; burn it even before you read what follows.”
Better than fucking a pig’s head is this foul fable!
If that’s its moral.
Burn what actually follows in this story after that initial moral-in-hindsight-to-be about Etonians above, but please read what follows in my review of it….
“Billy was apparently very fond of women, but he thought they needed to be kept in order, and ‘given a good hiding’ once in a while. It was his view that they liked to be treated roughly, and to be given a good ‘seeing to’ on a regular basis.”
With blade and feather, Billy’s Jerries* fresh from Belsen arrive on his solitary island, an island with a single club house called Monk’s Eyot, owned by Eton College, Billy its refreshment warden for passing boatmen. (*Three Men in a Boat, by Jerry K. Jerry, except these three posh ‘men’, if not Billy’s scrawny version of Jerries, had just done their A Levels).
What happens has to be read to be believed. But I do not recommend it without due warning. I am surprised it is even allowed to publish such things. Except it is brilliantly written and, yes, there is that inferred moral-in-hindsight to redeem it.
I felt sullied, but aroused, aroused, if not by the story of Billy’s arousal, certainly by that sense of a worthy moral-ever-in-hindsight. And more fundamentally by the sense that we all become akin to rat-faced monkeys or certainly there or thereabouts, ever under the cosh of others just like us, and them by others just like them, until you come to us again. Some know it, others don’t.
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The next story I reviewed here: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2020/09/16/strange-tales-tartarus-press-at-30/, as follows…
COLLECTABLE by Reggie Oliver
“I knew that all of us have a tendency to forge a meaning out of mere coincidence,…”
I do not believe there is any such thing as mere coincidence. Well, whatever the case, I do believe this to be a classic Reggie Oliver theatrical tale, one with an even deeper poignancy when one takes into account the plight of actors today, worse even than the circumstances for some of them in the past. This work literally had me in tears, at the events themselves and at the manner in which they are couched. A tale of the narrator who is an actor between parts, as it were, here getting a position in a Croydon residential home for elderly actors, one of them being a forgotten actress nonagenarian with whom, by coincidence, he had recently fallen in love, by dint of buying postcards of her in her past heyday roles. The auras he thus evokes for both of them (or effectively evoked by both of them in some rarefied collusion) are thus contained within a co-vivid dream of her past theatrical experiences, one event in particular, after the narrator found an old recording of her performing a song and playing it back to her, a song that this story makes unforgettable, the song’s naïve lines turned, by incantatory refrain, into pure poetry of golden memory and romantic sadness. (The narrator himself is fulsomely characterised, by these events and also by a later coincidental fling with the actress’s elegantly flighty niece.)
“‘Page 113,’ she said.”
“Someone or something had played a chord on it, the most vicious, least harmonious I had ever heard. All the works of Berg and Schoenberg were infantile, sentimental pipings compared with this one lost chord.”
I rather resented that analogy involving two of my favourite composers. But I don’t think that resentment prejudged me as to the value of this info-dump of a ‘horror’ work involving a punk band called Groin Strain and many theatrical references, like Pinter and Brecht, and the theatrical ‘space’ provided, during the Edinburgh festival in 1979, by an ominously puritanical chapel with even more ominous legends, its current theatrical operators seeming privy to its chiliastic implications (implications which were quite interesting, though, after recently reading this book’s publisher’s ‘Waiting for the End of the World’), plus jealousy between actors, directors and theatrical companies, and many more deathly items of the horrific concerning this work’s title, as well as speculations on anorexia. Despite there being some striking passages and its being meticulously stylistic around the plot and characterisation defects, the work was indeed its own ‘Great Disappointment.’ Brightened for me by mention of the Colchester theatre that I often visited pre-Covid.
It seems so unlikely but appropriate, and strangely enlightening, as to the complementarities of coincidence that immediately after putting down THIS story by R.B. Russell, I pick up — as part of a sequence of reading already predetermined by a random choice of books due to be reviewed — this series of ‘factual’ vignettes by the Reggie…
A CABINET OF CURIOSITIES
THE SLEEPING PORTRAIT OF MONKSHOOD HALL
An account of a ‘sleeping portrait’ in Monkshood Hall, and two parallel asphyxiations of the different woman who lived in the house on each occasion, one that succeeded!
Link to ‘THIS story’: https://dflewisreviews.wordpress.com/2021/07/06/infra-noir-2020/#comment-22414
No. 2 TEMPORARY DISAPPEARANCE OF A SCHOOL
No. 3 MRS MIDNIGHT’S ANIMAL COMEDIANS
No. 4 A CAUTIONARY TALE CONCERNING BEARDS
No. 5 THE REV ARTHUR GASPORT AND HIS DAEMONOGRAPH
All beautifully illustrated by the author (worth the price of this book alone where each component of the full contents is thus decorated), these are delightful gems from the Heath Robinson of such curiosities as well as of ingeniously wild or brilliantly dark, stylish weird/ strange fictions between any items of alchemical dross.
And talking about alchemical dross, ARMIES OF THE NIGHT, at the end of this book, is a lengthy Lovecraftian extravaganza that I tried to negotiate but succeeded in finding only a few paragraphs of discrete gold. Lovecraft’s work itself, though, I do have much time for.
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The reviewer after finishing this book —